A man should always make sure his mother good and take care of his people. I hate ungratefulness, you know? Can’t stand to see people who does just leave their parents to fall by the wayside…p30
When we were birds is a beautifully crafted blend of the mythical and reality. The blend is important in the carving of new trajectories and realities of a people whom fate has trapped in a space whose imagination was based on hate, exploitation and discrimination. Remember the book is set in Trinidad and Tobago.Ayanna Lloyd Banwo created unforgettable strong characters who refuse being stark in circumstances that dehumanize them. As such they are very much aware of the “hard choices” staring them. It is this awareness complemented by their strong spiritual bedrock that strengthen the main characters Darwin and Yejide as well as those who came before them in their transcendental pursuit of being. Darwin forced by circumstances abandons his childhood faith, belief and home in search of tangible material objects important for life on the side of the living. This break from the very life he had known meant breaking of vows and further breakage of his mother’s heart who had always thought the city as a place that “swallow a man whole.” The mother is old enough to have seen “woman watch they son, they daughter, they husband walk out they house looking for more” only to be disappear forever.
It is in the city where his life get entangled with Yejide’s. Another character from the Benards whose matriachs are greater than any gods.
Love is used as a tool to transcend current being and is a binding force between the living and the dead. Sometimes the bonds are terrifying in that they leave the living grieving powerlessly. Some other times the bonds are sweet in the reciprocal care shared with the living making sure the dead’s “body rest good, budy properly so tjdy don’t forget themselves and rage like they want to come back” while the dead make sure houses “never fall down” “no one troubles them” as they give rest and strength to the living. It is interesting to note that the novel has a beautiful way of conceptualising the intensity of and paradoxes brought about by death and grief. Banwo’s male characters could be interesting to those interested in studying masculinities. Some are violent. Some are weak when separated from their women by death.
In beautiful and musical language that reminds me of Harare North, When We Were Birds shows what life is in Morne Marie and what it can be with the aid of strong love and spiritual bonds.